Feyerabend on the quantum theory of measurement: A reassessment


In 1957, Feyerabend delivered a paper titled “On the quantum‐theory of measurement” at the Colston Research Symposium in Bristol to sketch a completion of von Neumann’s measurement scheme without collapse, using only unitary quantum dynamics and well‐motivated statistical assumptions about macroscopic quantum systems. Feyerabend’s paper has been recognized as an early contribution to quantum measurement, anticipating certain aspects of decoherence. Our paper reassesses the physical and philosophical content of Feyerabend’s contribution, detailing the technical steps as well as its overall philosophical motivations and consequences. Summarizing our results, Feyerabend interpreted collapse as a positivist assumption in quantum mechanics leading to a strict distinction between the uninterpreted formalism of unitary evolution in quantum mechanics and the classically interpreted observational language describing post‐measurement outcomes. Thus, Feyerabend took his the no‐collapse completion of the von Neumann measurement scheme to shows the dispensability of the positivist assumption, leading the way to a realistic interpretation of quantum theory. We note, however, that there are substantial problems with his account of measurement that bring into question its viability as a legitimate foil to the orthodox view. We further argue that his dissatisfaction with the von Neumann measurement scheme is indicative of early views on theoretical pluralism.

Author's Profile

Daniel Kuby
Universität Konstanz


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